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Patch dynamics and the development of structural and spatial heterogeneity in Pacific Northwest forests

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Over time, chronic small-scale disturbances within forests should create distinct stand structures and spatial patterns. We tested this hypothesis by measuring the structure and spatial arrangement of gaps and canopy patches. We used airborne LiDAR data from 100 sites (cumulative 11.2 km2) in the Pacific Northwest, USA, across a 643 year chronosequence to measure canopy structure, patch and gap diversity, and scales of variance. We used airborne LiDAR’s ability to identify strata in canopy surface height to distinguish patch spatial structures as homogeneous canopy structure, matrix–patch structures, or patch mosaics. We identified six distinct stand structure classes that were associated with the canopy closure, competitive exclusion, maturation, and three patch mosaics stages of late seral forest development. Structural variance peaked in all classes at the tree-to-tree and tree-to-gap scales (10–15 m), but many sites maintained high variance at scales >30 m and up to 200 m, emphasizing the high patch-to-patch heterogeneity. The time required to develop complex patch and gap structures was highly variable and was likely linked to individual site circumstances. The high variance at larger scales appears to be an emergent property that is not a simple propagation of processes observed at smaller spatial scales.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Forest Resources, College of the Environment, University of Washington, Box 352100, Seattle, WA 98195, USA. 2: Watershed Services Division, Seattle Public Utilities, 19901 Cedar Falls Road SE, North Bend, WA 98045, USA. 3: Pacific Northwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, University of Washington, Box 352100, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.

Publication date: December 1, 2011

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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